Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bede's Letter to Plegwin

Some of you might vaguely recall I had started a series about a year ago on biblical chronology.  It started with a commentary on some research into human lifespans and continued with an overview of questions about biblical chronology and a discussion of William Henry Green's influential article, and concluded with a commentary on arguments from incredulity.  I hadn't intended to just drop the subject, but you know how this year's been.  First, I was in a movie, and then we had a busy summer with conferences, and then we bought and renovated a building!  I never stopped thinking about the subject though, and now I wanted to post a few comments on Bede's Letter to Plegwin.

Say what?  Okay, a little background is in order.  The Venerable Bede was an English monk who lived in a monastery way up in the northeastern part of England (Tyne and Wear) back in the eighth century.  He was a really important English author who, according to Wikipedia, "made the Latin and Greek writings of the early Church Fathers much more accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons, which contributed significantly to English Christianity."  Core Academy has a copy of his commentary on Genesis, and I just snatched up a copy of Faith Wallis's translation of Bede's The Reckoning of Time (see above).

Reckoning of Time turned out to be far more complicated and fascinating than I expected.  The basic problem was determining the date of Easter, and Bede wrote this book to explain how this was done.  I've never really given this a lot of thought, since someone has always been around to tell me the date of Easter, but it was a big deal in the early church.

The basic problem is that the lunar cycle (which gives us our months) doesn't match up perfectly to the solar cycle (which gives us our years).  Since we know Jesus died and rose again at Passover, celebrating the resurrection should coincide with the Passover.  But the Bible describes the Passover as a day of the first Jewish month, which then has to be correlated to the solar year.  Since the lunar year and solar year don't match, you have to figure out when to add extra days (and even months) to the calendar to make the scheme work out.  Bede's Reckoning of Time is like a textbook explaining how this whole process works.  I was deeply impressed with the ingenuity of these early calendar calculators.

And what does this have to do with the date of creation?  Bede's Reckoning includes a section called "The Six Ages of this world," which is basically a historical chronicle from the beginning of time.  In creating this chronicle, he relied on dates calculated from what we know as the Masoretic text.  As I wrote previously,
We have three basic manuscript "versions" of the Old Testament: The Masoretic, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan.  The Masoretic is the one that Protestants use today to translate the Old Testament.  The Septuagint is an ancient Greek translation, and the Samaritan was an independent Hebrew version of the Old Testament preserved  in the city of Samaria (the old capital of the northern ten tribes of Israel).  They are mostly the same and definitely tell the same stories, but there are some differences.  One of those differences is the ages of the patriarchs.  If you add up the ages of the Masoretic, you get 1656 years between creation and the Flood.  The Septuagint records 2244 years, and the Samaritan 1307.
Using the Masoretic numbers, Bede placed the birth of Christ 3,952 years after Adam, but he acknowledged that those who used the Septuagint calculated 5,199 years between creation and the birth of Jesus.

That brings us to the Letter to Plegwin, which Bede wrote to defend himself against a charge of heresy. We don't know much about Plegwin, except that he was associated with Bede's bishop, Wilfred.  At dinner with the bishop one evening, an unidentified "lewd rustic" had accused Bede of heresy because he put birth of Jesus in 3,952 rather than 5,199.  That allegedly moved Jesus' birth from the beginning of the Sixth Age of the world to the Fourth Age.  Bede only found out about the accusation later.

Let me begin by acknowledging that I was troubled that Christians were once so hung up on this chronology that they actually considered questioning it to be heresy.  Heresy is denying the person and work of Christ.  Questioning peripherals like chronology cannot be heresy.  It's not a gospel issue.

The Letter to Plegwin is a nice little summary of Christian thought on the Masoretic vs. Septuagint ages.  Bede prefers the Masoretic dates, which he refers to as the "Hebrew Truth," because he thinks this is the original language.  He never discusses why the numbers of the Septuagint were "wrong," but he does quote Augustine and Jerome on the subject, who agree with Bede that the Septuagint's numbers are incorrect.

So why would anyone think the Septuagint chronology would be authoritative?  Well, here's where it gets weird.  Jerome selected the Masoretic dates to include in the Vulgate, so the Bible available to Bede supported the shorter chronology.  But another important source for historical information was the early church historian Eusebius, who wrote from Greek sources.  His chronology was derived largely from the Septuagint.

So Eusebius' history had become revered with its chronology that disagreed with the chronology that could be calculated from the Vulgate!  Does that make for a charge of heresy for choosing one over the other?  I don't think so.  Bede didn't think so either, especially when he sided with Augustine, Jerome, and the Vulgate itself.

If you have an interest in this, Bede's Letter to Plegwin is an interesting place to start to learn about ancient opinions about the Septuagint and chronology.  You'll find it in the appendix of Bede: The Reckoning of Time.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, November 13, 2017

CELD returns!

Seventeen years ago, when I was just starting to research and write Understanding the Pattern of Life, I needed to find what creationists had written on a wide range of subjects.  Skimming through creationist journals and magazines was time-consuming and tedious, so I decided to create a creationist PubMed.  So while I was busy researching and writing a book, I was also creating a new database of creationist literature in my spare time.  I called it CELD, the Creation-Evolution Literature Database.

We maintained CELD pretty well for slightly more than a decade, but in the turmoil of launching Core Academy, we put it aside.  It was always available online, and occasionally people would ask me if we're ever going to update CELD.  I always told them that someday it would be revived.  Well, someday has finally arrived.

I'm pleased to announce that CELD now has an official sponsor, Is Genesis History?.  With their generous support, Core Academy recruited a new team member, Jennifer Terry.  Jennifer is a Bryan College graduate and comes to us with more than two decades of experience in office management, data entry, and customer service.  Over the next few weeks, she'll be catching us up on the last five years of publications.  Jennifer will eventually take over managing CELD, including maintaining the Core Academy periodical collection, updating CELD with the latest issues, and adding new titles to the collection.

EXCITING!  Jennifer's working on CELD!
If you see Jennifer around Core Academy HQ, say hello.  If you're interested in following our progress with CELD, you can check out our Content page, where you can see our progress on the many titles found in CELD.  And if you're interested in a creationist documentary featuring yours truly (because, let's be honest, you certainly should be), be sure to check out Is Genesis History?, which you can get on DVD, Blu-ray, or On Demand at the IGH website.  I am extremely grateful for their support of CELD, so check them out!

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Piltdown reactions

My little post about Piltdown on Monday stirred up some interesting reactions in my email inbox.  Well, maybe "interesting" is a little generous.

The basic reaction goes like this:
You are wrong.  We should pay close attention to Piltdown because it could happen again.  Scientists are prone to believe what they assume to be true in the first place.
OK, let's review what I actually wrote in my first post.  I was trying to make two points.  First, Piltdown doesn't mean a thing for modern hominin fossils.  Everybody knows that Piltdown is fake, and modern hominin fossils are not fake.  Second, Piltdown (like Paluxy) could be a warning against confirmation bias, the human tendency to believe things that we already think are true.

So these email reactions are kind of weird, because I said that Piltdown was a warning against confirmation bias and my critics replied by saying, "You're wrong! Piltdown is a warning against confirmation bias."  Somebody's having trouble reading, I think.

The uncomfortable part about Piltdown and Paluxy is that they reveal the same tendency to confirmation bias on the part of everyone.  We should be suspicious of everyone.  Nobody gets a free pass.  You are biased just like every other human being on the planet.

Let's be really clear here: if you're snickering at evolutionists and lapping up everything written by ICR or AIG, you're probably falling victim to confirmation bias.  If you're snickering at creationists and lapping up everything published by the NCSE or BioLogos, you're no better.  What this debate needs is a good dose of self-examination.  Where am I wrong?  If you answer that by saying, "I'm not" or "The real problem is the other guy," then you are most certainly part of the larger problem of confirmation bias.  Until you get that log out of your eye, you won't be able to help the "other guy."

But hey, I could be wrong, right?  By all means, if you think I'm full of it, please continue enjoying your self-satisfaction and demonizing everyone who disagrees with you.  It'd be a great idea to send me long emails telling me why I'm wrong and why you're not.  And while you're at it, be sure to get into long, pointless arguments with anonymous people on the internet to reinforce how much you're right and everybody else is a bunch of idiots.  Yes, that's exactly what we need.

God help us all.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Focus on reality (not on Piltdown)

Piltdown reconstruction (Wikimedia)

I spent a few minutes recently reading comments on the Is Genesis History? Facebook page.  I was struck by how many people who commented on my human origins video are obsessed with Piltdown.  So let's take a deep breath (OK, I need a deep breath) and sort this out.  What is Piltdown?  Why does it matter?

In 1912, an "amateur archaeologist" named Charles Dawson reported to the Geological Society of London that workman in Piltdown (south of London) had recovered human remains from a gravel pit.  Subsequent digging turned up remains of a skull that was said to be a primitive form, something of an "ape man."  Forty years later, the remains were decisively exposed as a fraud.  Someone had doctored the jaw of an orangutan and combined it with a human cranium, giving the appearance of a mix of ape and human features.  The most likely culprit was Charles Dawson himself, a lawyer with a history of fraudulent archaeological "discoveries."  So as it turns out, Dawson wasn't so much an "amateur archaeologist" as a serial liar and con artist.

So what does this fake fossil have to do with real hominin fossils like the Dmanisi discoveries or Homo naledi?  I think creationists who continue to bring up Piltdown do it for one of two reasons.  Piltdown makes scientists look stupid for not catching a fraud or look devious for committing a fraud in the first place.  In other words, you can't trust an evolutionist because they're stupid or liars.  No one ever connects those dots though.  They just say, "Look at Piltdown.  It's a fraud!" and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.  If they did spell out exactly what it means ("you can't trust an evolutionist"), we'd see right through it.  It's a classic ad hominem attack, and it has nothing to do with actual hominin fossil evidence.

Let's focus on reality: Piltdown was exposed almost 65 years ago now.  Most of the fossils that occupy the attention of modern paleoanthropologists were discovered after Piltdown was exposed.  Real hominin fossils have received far more attention from far more conclusive tests and experiments than Piltdown ever did, and they are not frauds.  Scientists could be wrong about their significance, but it's not for their lack of knowledge or understanding.  To modern paleoanthropology, Piltdown is a historical curiosity.

Now, I could see Piltdown standing as a warning against confirmation bias.  That's what Charles Dawson was probably banking on: scientists expecting to find evidence of human evolution would be so excited about this manufactured "discovery" that they accepted it without careful investigation.  That could indeed be a reasonable warning, but it's a warning that everyone should heed.

Because Piltdown has a lot in common with Paluxy.  Remember Paluxy?  The river in Texas where supposedly human footprints were found alongside dinosaur footprints?  It seemed like a dream come true for creationists: proof positive that dinosaurs co-existed with humans!  Except those prints were just partially infilled footprints from other dinosaurs walking in soft mud.  It took decades before creationists accepted this, and there are unfortunately still creationists who stubbornly refuse to accept the reality of Paluxy.

The lessons of Piltdown and Paluxy are indeed worth heeding today, because they are lessons for us all.  We ought to be cautious and careful about discoveries.  We need to be aware of our own biases and talk about them.  Don't get too excited, especially when discoveries seem to corroborate your own opinions.  That's the time to be even more skeptical.  Most important of all, these lessons apply to creationists and evolutionists.  No one is immune from confirmation bias.

So please stop obsessing over Piltdown.  It doesn't mean anything to the modern science of paleoanthropology, and what lessons we can learn from it should make us all more careful and astute scholars.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Core Academy building update

Before and after (most of) the floor installation.
Things are coming along here at the new worldwide headquarters of Core Academy.  I hope that long-time readers who have followed our journey over the past five years rejoice with us as we start a new chapter in our ministry.  The building is nearing completion, and we've scheduled our Grand Opening for Friday October 20 at 7 pm.  You are definitely invited to attend.  We'll have a brief ribbon cutting, then let you tour the new facility.  We'll even have some special guests, including professors from Bryan College helping with some local science demonstrations and Jacob Ellis, the Rhea county archivist, showing off some of the historical treasures from the Core Academy archives.

As we prepare for the big opening, we still need help with moving.  We've scheduled two big moving days: October 7 and 14.  On the 7th, we will move the bulk of the library from Dayton Self Storage just behind O'Reilly auto parts on 27 (see map).  Then on the 14th, we'll move the last bits of our offices on the Bryan College campus.  On both days, we'll start at 9 am and work until we're done or just exhausted (whichever comes first).  If you'd like to help us out, we'd be happy to buy your lunch (and not just pizza).  Shoot me an email if you can help, so I can coordinate all the volunteers.

If you can't help us move, but you still want to help out, there will be plenty of work to do any school day after 3 pm.  Stop by our new location on the campus of Rhea County Academy (245 California Ave) as soon as school lets out, and you can work on putting furniture together, unpacking, or cleaning.  Again, let me know you're coming so I can plan.

If you can't come at all but still want to help, there are still three big things you can do.  1. Pray for us.  Pray that everything gets finished for the Grand Opening, and pray that we Core Academics have the stamina to keep going.  2.  Tell your friends!  We want a big turnout at our Grand Opening!  (And we hope to see you there, too!)  3.  Consider a contribution.  Now that the building is nearing completion, our coffers are pretty empty.  We still have big ministry expenses coming up, as we gear up for the 2018 Smoky Mountain Creation Retreat and new ministries we're not ready to announce yet.  Any amount will help.  You can make a contribution by clicking that donate button at the end of this post.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for praying!  I hope to see you at our Grand Opening on Friday, October 20 at 7 pm.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com. If you enjoyed this article, please consider a contribution to Core Academy of Science. Thank you.